Thursday, November 28, 2013

Edna Marie (Outhouse) Schwarz (1915-1992)

It’s Thanksgiving Day and I can’t help but think back to those family holiday dinners of the past. It isn’t the preparations, the decorations or even the turkey that I remember the most. I'm thinking about my Aunt Edna.
 I can hear her cheerful greeting, her laughter, and her asking me to get her a cup of tea; I remember the walks into town and feel her arms giving me a hug. She was ever-present in my childhood. When I was a baby, she lived upstairs; then later, she lived with our family for a few years until I was a young teen; then she got an apartment nearby. She was always there.
Holidays were special because of all the preparations for visiting relatives and the big dinners. Aunt Edna made the best coleslaw I’ve ever tasted. I would stand on a chair next to her at the kitchen sink and watch
Thanksgiving   c. 1977     Edna (front far right) at kid's table   
her chop the cabbage. I didn’t really help; I think I just wanted to be near her to listen to her talk. Our dining room table wasn’t large enough for everyone, so additions were made to make a big L-shaped table. All of us children sat together at the far end away from the adults. Aunt Edna always sat at the kids’ table with us. After dinner, she and I would help clear the tables and then we would wash all the dishes, chatting, sharing news, and telling stories. Even on New Year’s Eve, all the kids were at her apartment, playing games and listening to music, while the adults went to their parties. She taught me how to play pinochle, let me taste her blackberry brandy, and listened to my childish woes.
Aunt Edna always had gray hair for as long as I’ve known her. She was more like a grandma than an aunt—she had hard candies in her pockets, Melba toast in her cupboard, and talcum powder in her bathroom. She had a caregiver’s heart, and an infectious laugh. She rarely got angry, and when she did, it wasn’t for long. One time, my brother and I crawled up beside her in bed when she was sleeping. Aunt Edna snored very loudly. We found a downy feather from the pillow and tried to float it over her mouth, just like in the cartoons. When she inhaled it, we laughed hysterically, waking her up. She didn’t even get mad; she saw the humor in it and laughed right along with us.
Another time, we were getting ready to go somewhere, and I remember her franticly looking all over for her glasses only to discover they were on her head. We laughed about that for a long time. When my brother and I asked her to take our shortcut “over the river and through the woods” to her apartment complex, she hesitated, but only a little. She followed us on that crazy shortcut, brushing brambles aside, crossing over a log, and laughing all the way. We spent many hours going for walks to the store, to the library and around the neighborhood. Aunt Edna had never learned to drive; she never learned to ride a bicycle; and she never learned to swim. But she had a big heart and a great capacity for love.
My memories of her are mostly the memories of a child. Having moved away as a teen, I never really got to know her as an adult. It’s only when I look back, seeing her life through a genealogist’s eyes that I can appreciate what she’s been through. It’s then that I realize just what a remarkable person she was.
Edna Marie Outhouse was born in Peekskill, New York, on 27 January 1915, the only child of Lester [i]
Edna (Baisley) Outhouse with daughter, Edna Marie c. 1918
Outhouse and Edna Baisley. Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States and Congress had just rejected an amendment to give women the right to vote.
In September 1918, when she was almost 4 years old, the Spanish Influenza hit Peekskill. Between the months of September and November, there were over 3000 cases. The local newspapers reported over 30 deaths each week. [ii]  My Aunt Edna lost both her father and her uncle, Franklin Baisley, in the same week—both just young men in their early twenties.
A widow with a young daughter, Edna’s mother moved in with her in-laws, Ralph and Annie Outhouse.[iii] She lived with them until the early 1920s, when she met and married a young sailor, Albert Pastoor, with whom she made a home in Peekskill.[iv] In the years that followed, three more children, all sons, were born. The family managed to make a living during the depression. Edna, being the oldest and the only daughter, had many household chores and helped raise her young brothers. She told me of a time she killed a neighbor’s rooster because it attacked her every day as she walked to school. One day she got tired of being harassed by it and killed it with an ax. She got in trouble for killing the neighbor’s prize rooster and had to work to pay off its cost.
In 1949, Edna again lost a father, and in another six years, her mother was gone as well. By that time, Edna was married and pregnant with her only child. Five years later, she was a single mother trying to raise a daughter in Jersey City, New Jersey, the handsome US Marine she married having deserted them. She never remarried.
I never once thought about the hardships she had faced in her life. Maybe it was just because we never saw
Aunt Edna   c. 1978
that side of her. She was never bitter but always happy. She never had much money, but she was a generous person, especially with her time. She devoted her life to her family, to being a foster grandparent, and to volunteering for 15 years at a Home for Battered Women. She never knew a stranger and would talk to everyone.
She’s been gone 21 years now, and I miss her dearly. I think about her often and wish she could see her family now. She would love watching her grown grandchildren, nieces and nephews with their own children. I know if she were here this Thanksgiving, she’d be sitting with the kids, playing games, teaching them how to play cards, handing out hard candies from her pockets, and asking me to get her a cup of tea.

[i] The New York Times, "Jan. 12, 1915 - Congress Votes Against Women's Suffrage Amendment," The Learning Network, 12 Jan 2012 ( : accessed 23 Nov 2013).
[ii] "Influenza on the Wane," The Highland Democrat, 2 Nov 1918, p. 2, col. 4; digital images, Old Fulton NY Post Cards ( : accessed 22 Nov 2013).
[iii] 1920 U.S. census, Westchester, New York, population schedule, Peekskill, enumeration district (ED) 18, sheet 6-B (penned), p. 220-B (stamped), dwelling 106, family 151, Edna Outhouse in Ralph Outhouse household; digital images, ( : accessed 5 Jan 2010); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T625, roll 1,275.
[iv] "U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989," database and images, ( : accessed 14 Apr 2013), entry for "Pasteur, Albert (Edna)"; citing Richmond's Peekskill New York Directory, 1927, p. 160; image 86.

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